1) Then end of the books themselves — the end of the story and the parting from wonderful characters I had grown to love.
2) The passing away of magic, the other races of Middle Earth, the reverence for Nature, and the consequential ascendence of Man. More than the moment of departure “into the West” of specific characters, this was the end of an age.
These are of course echoes of other personal and cultural endings. Of my own childhood, of a romantic and magic-filled view of the world, of an ability to lose myself entirely in a work of fiction, of Tolkien himself as an author, of the power of books in the lives and minds of young people, of the richness and importance of folklore in earlier cultures and times, of the common belief in elves and faeries, etc.
But the larger metanarrative here is that human beings — with their industries, machines, brutal conflicts, self-absorbed ignorance, and feet of clay worldliness — would now become the dominant power of Earth…and all of the richness, knowledge, beauty, and complexity of Tolkein’s races, cultures, languages, and myths would fade away forever. The finality of that loss still haunts me, some 40+ years after reading LOTR.
At the heart of this, I think the resonance so many readers have felt is with Tolkien’s celebration of a profound mystery and beauty grounded in Nature. The Ents. The tree-dwelling Silvan Elves. The eagle Gwaihir’s critical aid to Gandalf. The tranquility and harmony of the Shire itself. All of these and so much more evoke the real magic woven into these books: a deeply felt sense of wonder for a natural world that transcends human pettiness and anthropocentric priority, and asks us all to live within it, as the hobbits and elves did, rather than dominating or subjugating Nature. And of course there was the warning of the fate of the Dwarves, who delved to greedily and deeply into Nature’s treasures.
And that resonance is most deeply felt by those of us who have, for many decades, sounded the alarm about the careless exhaustion, destruction and toxic pollution of species, habitats, and ecosystems of Earth. For me, this is the most heartbreaking message Tolkien delivered with LOTR: that human ascension would signal the end of Nature’s primacy, thriving, and very existence. And, so far at least, Tolkien was heartbreakingly prescient.
My 2 cents.
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